BY VARUN KUMAR
Birdman is about Riggan Thompson (ironically played by Michael Keaton), an aged actor that fell out of the limelight after he stopped playing the superhero known as Birdman in Hollywood. The story follows Thompson as he tries to make a comeback with a Broadway play that he wrote, directed, and will star in. However, he must battle with his personal demons, family problems, and stage problems altogether in order for this play to become a success.
The director of this film, Alejandro G Iñárritu, has shot and edited the film to where it feels like almost the entire movie was done in one take. This means that the camera continuously follows characters around from the stage to the streets of New York. Due to this and the percussion-heavy soundtrack, there is a very unique and consistent style in this film that keeps it interesting to casual viewers and film buffs alike.
There is quite a star-studded cast in this film, involving everyone from Emma Stone to Zach Galifianakis to Naomi Watts. While every actor in this film does a superb job, the real standouts are Edward Norton (who plays Broadway legend Mike Shiner) and Michael Keaton. They share a couple of scenes together, which normally last for a lengthy time due to the very long takes, that are simply electrifying and intense to watch as they discuss everything from the ideas of fame and relevancy to subtle faults in the script written for the play. Keaton is absolutely perfect for this role and is able to craft a very real person traumatized by his personal problems that is trying to save his professional career. While Norton is a scene-stealer in the film, his character becomes irrelevant to the story in the last 3rd of the film, which makes his strong presence feel like it was only there to get awards and nominations (much like Jennifer Lawrence’s character in American Hustle). While his conversations with Keaton are mainly there to convey the themes of popularity/ success and their true value, all of the other scenes in the film which are used to build his character and his purpose in life seem unnecessary because of the fact he has no role in the film’s end. Still, I heavily enjoyed the scenes he was in, even though one of them may just end up being my biggest problem with the movie.
There is a scene between Norton and Watts in this film that is meant to be a satire on method acting, but it uses sexual harassment to do so. While, the scene itself was very well done and handled the sensitive topic well, it continued to another scene where Watts, clearly traumatized, talks to another actress in the play about what happened, who says “That’s kinda hot.” While everything prior seemed to suggest that this scene was nothing more than satire, this bit was wrong to make a joke about such a sensitive topic and I would be surprised if this entire scene isn’t met with criticism/controversy during Oscar season.
The last third of this film is when Iñárritu decides to get into the real meat of the story and truly question Thompson’s purpose in life (and where the latter part of the movie’s title comes into play). It is a tragic, yet beautiful outcome for Thompson as he figures out how to deal with the fact he is irrelevant and has lost the magic touch he once had. While, Birdman works as a very strong screenplay full of satirical and witty dialogue, it is also impeccably directed and shot (by Emmanuel Lubezki) to where it feels like Iñárritu wants to switch from the POV’s of multiple characters (mainly Keaton and Norton) as they wander around, whether to do their jobs or to figure out how to overcome their failures.